VISITING ACT ‌ Let's Go 

The New Cars: they still like the night life, baby

CANCELLATION:
Due to a serious injury suffered by Cars guitarist Eliot Easton last week, the Blondie/New Cars concert scheduled for Sun. June 18 at the N. Charleston Coliseum was officially cancelled on Tues. June 13. Ticket refunds are available at point of purchase.

The Cars were the quintessential early-era American "new wave" band — based in classic guitar-pop structures, danceable, slick, cooly detached, commercially oriented, quirky, and influenced by the hook-laden British Invasion of the late-'60s and power-pop and glam-rock of the '70s (Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and Roxy Music).

A new version of The Cars, named "The New Cars," recently shared the bill with punk/new-wave legends Blondie on the the "Road Rage Tour 2006" (the show scheduled for Sun. June 18 at the N. Charleston Coliseum was cancelled last week).

The New Cars feature original guitarist Elliot Easton and original keyboardist Greg Hawkes alongside guitarist Todd Rundgren (of Utopia fame), singer/bassist Kasim Sulton (ex-Utopia), and drummer Prairie Prince (ex-The Tubes, John Fogerty). The new Blondie includes the original core — singer Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, keyboardist Jimmie Destri, and drummer Clem Burke.

"When Ric made it clear to us that he really no longer wished to tour, and Greg and I wanted to do this thing, we sort of cast about for who we could get to be in the band," guitarist Easton recently told Billboard. "Who would be a great frontman and a great writer? I sort of came up with a very short list, and Todd was at the top of it. To my very pleasant surprise, he was receptive to the idea. It's just a great fit. It sounds terrific. He's a lot of fun to play with."

Ironically, the new-wavy Cars began as a stoner folk band named Milkwood when guitarists Ocasek (born Richard Otcasek) and Orr (born Ben Orzechowski) moved from their college campus in Ohio to Cambridge, Mass. The songwriting duo hooked up with session keyboardist Hawkes in 1974 and formed Cap'n Swing, which enlisted Easton (born Elliot Steinberg) on lead guitar. In 1976, they regrouped under the name "The Cars" with drummer Dave Robinson — known in the Boston scene for his years of work with Jonathan Richman's influential pop-rock band The Modern Lovers.

Still looking a but scruffy with just a hint of modern "new wave" style, The Cars signed with Elektra Records in 1978 and released their terrific, self-titled debut album with the hit singles "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "Good Times Roll." 1979's follow-up, Candy-O, featured the driving, hand-clappy single "Let's Go" and secured the band's status as one of the leading modern-rock groups on radio.

In 1982, Rolling Stone declared them "pop encyclopedists" standing among the "new wave groups in the platinum bracket" alongside Blondie and The Police. 1981's Shake It Up came out in late 1981 and quickly went platinum, with its title track becoming the group's first Top Ten single. Over the next two years, the new music channel MTV placed clips by the band in heavy rotation — video for such songs as "You're All I've Got Tonight," "Shake It Up," "Since You're Gone," "You Might Think," "Magic," "Drive," and "Hello Again." In 1984, the band released their fifth album, Heartbeat City. The record went triple platinum in the summer of 1985.

Things unraveled for the band in the late '80s, however. Their electronic, synth-driven pop sounds fell out of style, as did their hammy "mod" fashion sense and poofy haircuts. Ocasek began producing recording sessions for various rock, punk, and alternative bands (he worked with the likes of Weezer, Bad Religion, Hole, Guided by Voices, No Doubt, Nada Surf, Johnny Bravo, D Generation, Possum Dixon, and Jonathan Richman, among others). Orr and Hawkes pursued solo careers. The band officially called it quits in 1988.

Fast-forward 17 years to last spring, when Easton (who had been working with Creedence Clearwater Revisited) and Hawkes announced they had pulled Rundgren and his shock of two-tone hair into the frontman position of a new tour project to lead a new version of The Cars, along with Sulton on bass (replacing Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000) and Prince on drums (Robinson chose to stand aside).

Ocasek has remained publicly indifferent to the band's reunion (aside from a light jab at the tour on a recent episode of The Colbert Report). Easton insists there is no ill will between Ocasek and the new band, however.

"I have been in contact with [Ocasek]," he says. "I read in some press thing that Ric did where he said he just wanted to see Greg and I be happy. I thought that was a very nice thing to say, and I wish him the same."


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